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The Rush to Free Trade in the Developing World: Why So Late? Why Now? Will it Last?

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  • Dani Rodrik

Abstract

This paper asks why developing country policymakers have been so reluctant to undertake trade reform until the 1980s, and why many of them have embraced open trade policies so wholeheartedly since then. To answer these questions, the paper develops a heuristic index of the "political cost-benefit ratio" (PCBR) of policy reform. The PCBR is a measure of the amount of redistribution of income generated for every dollar of efficiency gain achieved by reform. Judged by this index, trade reform performs very poorly: liberalization typically leads to five dollars of income being reshuffled within the economy for every dollar of net efficiency gain. However, when the liberalization is undertaken at a point of deep macroeconomic crisis and in conjunction with stabilization policies, the value of the PCBR index falls dramatically. This explains why trade reform is politically so difficult in normal times, and why times of crisis provide an opportune moment for undertaking structural reforms. The paper concludes by evaluating the sustainability of the reforms of the 1980s.

Suggested Citation

  • Dani Rodrik, 1992. "The Rush to Free Trade in the Developing World: Why So Late? Why Now? Will it Last?," NBER Working Papers 3947, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3947
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    1. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-490.
    2. Rodnik, Dani, 1992. "Conceptual issues in the design of trade policy for industrialization," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 309-320, March.
    3. Krueger, Anne O, 1974. "The Political Economy of the Rent-Seeking Society," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(3), pages 291-303, June.
    4. Drazen, Allan & Grilli, Vittorio, 1993. "The Benefit of Crises for Economic Reforms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 598-607, June.
    5. Wolfgang F. Stolper & Paul A. Samuelson, 1941. "Protection and Real Wages," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(1), pages 58-73.
    6. Persson, Torsten & Tabellini, Guido, 1994. "Is Inequality Harmful for Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 600-621, June.
    7. Alesina, Alberto & Özler, Sule & Roubini, Nouriel & Swagel, Phillip, 1996. "Political Instability and Economic Growth," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 1(2), pages 189-211, June.
    8. John Whalley, 1989. "Recent Trade Liberalization in the Developing World: What is Behind It, and Where is it Headed?," NBER Working Papers 3057, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Fernandez, Raquel & Rodrik, Dani, 1991. "Resistance to Reform: Status Quo Bias in the Presence of Individual-Specific Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1146-1155, December.
    10. Rodrik, Dani, 1989. "Promises, Promises: Credible Policy Reform via Signalling," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(397), pages 756-772, September.
    11. Panagariya, Arvind & Rodrik, Dani, 1993. "Political-Economy Arguments for a Uniform Tariff," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 34(3), pages 685-703, August.
    12. Alesina, Alberto & Drazen, Allan, 1991. "Why Are Stabilizations Delayed?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1170-1188, December.
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